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Immigration and Murder in an All-American Town

by Mirta Ojito

Pub Date: Oct. 29th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-8070-0181-3
Publisher: Beacon

A disturbing account of how attacks on Latino immigrants became a teenage sport in one suburban town, whose bigotry is seen here as typical of much of America.

Ojito (Journalism/Columbia Univ.; Finding Mañana: A Memoir of a Cuban Exodus, 2005), who was part of the team that won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting on race in America while at the New York Times, takes an in-depth look at the entwined issues of racism and anti-immigration sentiment. Where once new immigrants headed for large cities, now the destination is often suburbia. In this account, it was an influx of Ecuadorians to Patchogue, N.Y., that aroused hatred to the point of mayhem and manslaughter. The author tells her story through key players in the drama, among them Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian who was stabbed to death; Angel Loja, his companion, who was also attacked; Julio Espinoza, the “pioneer” Ecuadorian emigrant to the town; the librarian who started an outreach program to the town’s Spanish-speaking immigrants; and Jeff Conroy, the teenager stabber, and his six buddies who, on a November night in 2008, were out “hunting for beaners,” as they called their search for Latinos. In the background are politicians, TV pundits, lawyers, police officers, ministers and, importantly, parents. As Ojito reports, the message that many young people in Patchogue receive over the dinner table is that immigrants are despicable pests and that hunting them down meets with parental approval. The author lets participants tell their own stories, and their words reveal much about their attitudes. Conroy, who received a long sentence, was surprisingly willing to talk to the author, and his father and several Ecuadorian parents are well-portrayed in the later chapters.

A dark reminder that anti-immigrant sentiment has a long history in this country and that the immigration issue is not going away any time soon.